Whether you’re a parent or a high-school teacher, chances are, you may have noticed some “abnormalities” in a teenager. Some of it may just seem like social awkwardness, but maybe you’ve noticed some other odd behaviors in this teen, or it just feels to you like there’s something more to this teen than the typical “social awkwardness”. Teenagers helping others some cases, a person in their teenage years may be autistic, and they weren’t diagnosed as a child. Realize there is no “one way” to be autistic.
Autism is called a spectrum disorder because every autistic person is different, and some of them function better in certain areas than others. Some autistic people communicate nonverbally, while others are extremely good with verbal communication and may have a large vocabulary for their age. Oftentimes, if a teenager is diagnosed with autism, it’s because their behaviors weren’t pervasive enough to significantly interfere with their development – for example, they’re probably not going to communicate entirely non-verbally. However, some of the signs may actually become more obvious when the child reaches adolescence, such as trouble with social abilities. Did they have trouble dealing with transitions from one event to another, even if the transition seemed simple?
For example, a simple “Come on, let’s get in the car and go to Grandma’s” could have spurned what seemed like a temper tantrum. While stimming isn’t limited to autistic children, it’s much more prevalent than in non-autistic children. Did they play differently than other children would play? For example, an autistic teen may have not engaged in “playing pretend” as a child, or would have engaged in unusual play, such as feeling a doll’s hair or stacking Lego bricks rather than using these toys in the way that one would expect them to be used.
Look for signs that may have carried on from childhood. Certain traits of autism can remain for quite a long time if the autistic teen has never received any form of treatment for it. These can be things that you might see in any child, such as stuttering or stammering, or something more significant, such as constant avoidance of eye contact. Do they stim in not-so-obvious manners? This can be easy to overlook, as some stims may look like typical fidgeting that you’d see in just about any teenager. However, try to watch more closely and see how often they perform these behaviors.
Do they tap their pencil or play with their hair frequently, for example? Do they stick to strict routines and get upset when the routine is altered in some way? For example, if an autistic teen is told, “You’re not going to school today”, they may become distressed and complain, even if they dislike school. Do they have sensory problems – for example, do they cover their ears and get visibly upset by loud noises, or have strange eating patterns, such as either eating bland food or overly spicy food? Analyze long-lasting challenges and unusual aspects of the teen’s social skills. Some teenagers may just be socially awkward and not have many friends.